I went on a first aid course and I’m still talking about it weeks later

Hey, how do you know if somebody is choking to death?

You ask them.

At the end of January I completed a First Aid course run by St. John. It was a game-changing experience. I learned a lot. I was almost tempted to kick in the middle-management gig and retrain as a paramedic. The photo of a guy who’d manage to lop off his finger with his garage door put me off. But I was really gung-ho about it until then!

I had had some experience with first aid courses before. Before my first child was born I learned infant and child CPR. Last I followed along with parts of first-aid course aspiring life guards are required to take as part of their training. So of course I thought I was a bit of an expert in some stuff already. And of course it turned out I was a bit of a doofus when it came to some stuff.

The first thing we were told was that the aim of first aid is to save life. The secondary aim is to prevent further harm. We were told that the primary aim outweighs the secondary aim. Over the course of the day our instructor occasionally reminded us about the primary aim. I like to think that I remembered it at least half the time.

The biggest lesson I learned is that most first aid diagnosis and treatment is common sense. When you ask someone if they’re choking they won’t be able to speak, but they’ll let you know they are! If someone’s got a broken leg and can’t walk you just make sure they’re safe and comfortable, call for help, and keep monitoring them. You don’t need to go crazy with a splint and get them to hobble somewhere.

The second lesson I learned is that CPR is used to preserve organs while you wait for help. I’d already learned at the lifeguard training that you should always leave someone and go for help if nobody else can. I hadn’t realised that CPR is only for people who are already, well, dead. That’s why it’s ok to go for help.

The the third lesson I learned is that AEDs cannot shock people who don’t need a shock. You can’t kill someone with one. They can only detect a fibrillating heart – one that isn’t beating properly. If it can’t detect a dodgy ticker it will tell you to do CPR instead.

This is an AED. It can only help save lives. It’s not dangerous to use.

The fourth lesson I learned and relearned over the day is that people will overthink things and abandon what they know to be correct for what they think they remember. Our instructor would tell us the way to address a situation like a diabetic attack, talk for a while, do a demonstration, then ask us if we were comfortable with the demo. More of then than not it was a 50:50 thing in our group.

We argued whether you should give sugar to someone suffering a diabetic attack when you know they have high blood sugar. You should, and I was in the right about that. We argued whether you should remove an object crushing a person once it’s been there for a relatively long period of time. You should, and I was in the wrong about that. I learned how to attend to a bleed and how to make someone with a broken arm comfortable so they could be driven to hospital. I threw up my arms and claimed ignorance when I was asked what to do if it was broken bone sticking out causing the bleeding. Answer: put pressure on the bleed like you normally would and make the patient feel comfortable like you normally would.

You’d think as a veteran of the software industry I’d remember my tendency to overthink things. But there you go.

By the end of the day I’d demonstrated CPR on three types of patients; learned how to recognize seizures, heart problems, stroke; tackled breaks & bleeds; and shown I know when to call an ambulance and when to take a patient to the doctor or hospital myself.

The first aid course was fun and rewarding in so many ways. I kinda want to use my newfound knowledge so I’ve signed up for GoodSAM (no alerts yet). I’ve only just slowed down sharing general first aid trivia at work. I’ve yet to don the hi-viz in a fire drill but I’m looking forward to it.